The heat and dust raised the Gujarat elections were unprecedented for a provincial election. The verdict has been intriguing and holds deep significance for 2019 general election
Dr Sudip Kar Purkayastha
The BJP , no doubt, won a clear majority in Gujarat but the pattern of voting has exposed its soft underbelly. About 551,000 voters i.e., nearly 1.8 percent of total votes cast pressed NOTA giving a clear signal of their dissatisfaction with the ruling party. Luckily for the BJP, they refrained from choosing the Congress symbol either.
Finally, the party won 99 seats which were 7 more than the halfway mark of 92. This is a clear mandate to govern the state for next 5 years. But can it afford to be complacent? Many of its supporters are claiming that the party could have easily got another 15 seats if only the NOTA votes were cast in its favour. But, it is also true that other things remaining unchanged the Congress could have won in another 15 constituencies if the NOTA voters chose it over ‘neutrality’. In the first case, the BJP could have almost retained its 2012 tally. In the second phase, however, the Congress alliance could have carried a coup d’état. How then the two parties should read this intriguing verdict?
The deeper implications of Gujarat verdict is slowly sinking in both parties. The sudden buoyancy in posture and utterances by Congress leaders can be attributed to their reading of the Gujarat verdict. Throughout the campaign Rahul Gandhi attacked the Gujarat model of development as built on untruth. Recently going into an unusually attacking mode he accused that the entire Modi model being based on ‘lies’. The apparently rejuvenated the Congress.
The BJP had entered the fray with a couple of initial handicaps like inept handling of Patidar agitation and lynching of Dalit youths. The emergence of a few garrulous rabble-rousing youth leaders of myopic vision to the centre stage of state politics became a challenge.
Piggybacking on such support, these new kids on the block went berserk by raising cacophony and throwing mucks. Ordinarily, those need not have bothered the BJP but for the fact that they also got hold of some real issues like youth unemployment.
The BJP has been repeatedly stung by its adversaries for a decline in fresh job creation since 2014. So far it has sought to defend itself quoting its massive programme of skill development amongst the youth and loans of few trillion INR to few crore of youth which has presumably created several million jobs.
This failed to impress people. It had become necessary that the government comes out with a white paper on employment. It must also examine how accommodating or helpful has been the regulatory regime towards the small entrepreneurs in various states with regard to licensing and other requirements.
Areas of Concern
Farmers’ dissatisfaction in Gujarat suggests the flow of benefits is being impeded. Else, the farmers should have begun to experience the impact of the government initiative on their income, however minimal that be. The augmentation is a gradual process and it is impractical to hope to see the doubling of income suddenly in 2022. The BJP should energize the system, identify the roadblocks and remove them as early as it can.
As regards DEMO and GST, it is clear that the BJP’s rivals would not relent attacking it till 2019. Their main contention has been while both led to enormous public suffering, DEMO did not achieve any of its professed goals while the GST having been hastily implemented caused enormous hardship to the small businesses as well as the consumers i.e., public and led to a price rise.
With regard to the GST the outstanding issues require to be sorted out speedily to counter the negative perception. The manner in which the rates were tweaked from time to time indeed gave an impression to the general public that it was rolled out rather chaotically.
Modi’s charisma saved the government in both cases, but not before serving a notice to the government that in future such radical reforms must not be put through without thorough preparation and planning!
While listing possible causes for the Gujarat verdict, most analysts have, consciously or otherwise, neglected to mention the X factor that made the majority of the voters to give BJP another term in spite of having several reservations. It is their lingering hope that Modi would be able to build a new India based on ‘justice for all and appeasement of none’, ‘sab ka saath sab ka vikas’, ‘up-liftment of the poor across caste and creed’, ‘uniform civil code’, ‘chance to every citizen to develop to his or her potential’, ‘enlightened population policy’, ‘sending back illegal economic infiltrators from Bangladesh’, ‘assertion of rights over POK’, ‘ending secessionist activities in J&K and integrating that state to the national mainstream’, ‘resettling the Kashmiri Pundits in the valley’, and such other courageous nationalist agenda.
Incidentally this very factor had done the magic in 2014 general election and brought an unprecedented victory to Modi-led BJP and NDA. The election in 2019 may be the time when the beneficiary of that favour would have to submit its answer paper and the electorate would write the report card.
A cursory review of the ground realities, however, suggests that many of these expectations that tens of millions of truly secular and patriotic Indians constituting BJP’s core constituency have close to their hearts and which Modi had promised to address during BJP’s 2014 campaign remain unfulfilled.
Article 370 & Uniform Civil Code remain on the backburner. The government energy seems fully expended on banning ‘Triple Talaq’ alone. There is a deafening silence on the need to implement a sound population policy. Talks of sending back the illegal Muslim infiltrators from Bangladesh remain only an election promise.
To conclude it is true that the Modi-led NDA government has achieved several important milestones in national and international spheres over last 43 months but these may turn transient unless the expectations of its vast core constituency are respected and met too. These are but basic conditions for building a strong, truly secular and unified India in accordance with her great civilisational values and tradition. It may be risky for the BJP to expect that its core constituency would continue to give the party chances as they have in case of Gujarat unless it demonstrates its commitment to its concerns in a convincing manner. These are more important than Vikas because they are the very edifice upon which the real Vikas can unfold and sustain.
(The writer is an author and a columnist)